new zealand electronic poetry centre


John Tranter 


Five Modern Myths 

The Guarani Indians of Paraguay
like to keep a small cork loose in their dishwashers,
to ‘introduce a spirit of lightness and unpredictability
into what is otherwise a repetitive activity,
and one tedious and unpleasant to contemplate
by the gods of the forest.’

In Kota Rendang, a small fishing village
on the East Coast of Malaysia, the wood carvers
refrain from spitting in front of the local cinema,
in case ‘Clint Eastwood should become angry,
and blunt the edges of our blades.’

Until recently the fishermen of Muckle Roe,
in Scotland, used to scrub their decks with toothpaste
on the night of the Summer Solstice,
in order to placate the fish-goddess Fiona,
she ‘of the gleaming teeth’.

The Mongolians of Ulaanbaatar have a great respect
for dwarfs, who are trained to recite poetry
in a sing-song voice in front of the television news
which is allowed to run silently in the background.
‘A short rhyme contains the news’, is their motto;
using ‘contains’ in the sense of ‘constrains’, or
‘keeps within the bounds of propriety’.

The stockbrokers of Lakeville, Connecticut,
take care not to be seen mowing their lawns
on the thirteenth of the month, in case
a water spirit, the ‘White Witch of Lakeville’,
should afflict them with cirrhosis of the liver.

Last updated 12 October, 2003